Criminal Minds 221: Open Season

Is there anything worse than getting chased though the woods by hillbillies with compound bows? Doubtful. Unless it’s getting chased through the woods by hillbillies with compound bows while an editor tries to convince the audience that the killbillies are possibly hunting deer. I know the second would be worse for me.

Anyhoo, the killbillies deal with their prey, and then we cut to a bar where the ladies of Criminal Minds are gathered – see, it’s clever because we’ve gone from a literal hunting ground to a metaphorical one! And things are even cleverer than they first appear, because the scene plays out with a guy thinking he’s impressing the ladies by claiming to be from the FBI, and then being humiliated when it turns out that he’s talking to three real agents! Or at least two, I’m not sure if Garcia’s allowed to carry a gun or anything.

You see? The hunter had the tables turned on him! Much like I assume the killbillies will later in the episode! Yeah, I’m officially being too hard on the show right now. I’m probably still a little bitter over that whole ‘Jill the Ripper’ episode. Honestly, it’s a good scene, and the closest thing I’ve ever seen to well-handled ‘matching scene themes’ in an episode, so bravo, the CM writing team.

Hey, do you think that, while they were making the terrible Jill the Ripper episode AJ Cook told everyone that she played an identical Jill the Ripper character in terrible movie ‘Ripper: Letter From Hell”? I mean, that must have been mentioned at some point, right?

The team gets called into HQ to learn about the killbillies’ murder spree. Because they didn’t leave arrows in the bodies the team is stumped by what kind of weapon might have been used. Which seems like a bit of a stretch to me. Take a look at the arrows poking out of their latest victim:

While it’s true that the lack of an arrowhead would be a hindrance in immediately identifying them as arrow wounds, the fact that the projectiles invariably when clean through their targets in completely straight lines (despite their small ‘calibres’), leaving perfectly round entrance and exit wounds would certainly point away from bullets being involved almost immediately.

Not to mention the fact that each victim was left where they were killed, and the cops didn’t find any bullets embedded in the trees or dirt.

So what’s gained by being mysterious about the murder weapon in this scene? It’s not a twist for the audience, since we’ve just seen the killbillies in action, and it kind of makes the team look a little slow.

That’s not the worst of it, though – when someone points out that the victims (who were abducted in Washington state, but killed in Idaho) are both male and female, Reid mentions that a serial killer without a sexual preference would be ‘a first’.

Um… The beltway snipers? Henry Lee Lucas? Any given ‘angel of mercy’ killer? Your own fictional serial killer ‘Frank’, the ‘Rib-bone killer’?

Despite these weird missteps the team at least manages to put together that the victims were being hunted.

Thank heavens for small favours, right?

During the trip the team establishes that a hundred people disappear into the Idaho wilderness every year, never to be seen again, so someone familiar with the woods would know it was a good place to do some hunting, since it’s likely the bodies would never be found.

Except for the three that were found in quick succession this year.

In addition to those victims there are ten other Spokane people missing over the past five year. Every one disappeared on their way to or from the city, and their cars were never seen again. Which means someone must be waylaying them on the highways! But who, and why?

Oh, right. We know why. To murder them with arrows.

Derek, Emily, and Mandy head into the wilds of Idaho, while the rest of the team goes to Washington state. This gives JJ a chance for a decent character scene, as she goes along with a local sheriff on a notification call. It doesn’t really further the plot or anything, but it’s pretty affecting stuff, as it would be if someone’s dog had been kidnapped and set on fire.

Out in the woods Derek and Emily get schooled on travelling through brush. The local ranger confirms that the tactics being used by the killers are similar to those that hunters would employ. That, combined with two sets of bootprints, confirms that they’re dealing with a pair of killers. Mandy also figures out that the weapon was a bow and arrow, which means the team has finally caught up with the audience!

Maybe not fast enough to save this woman, whose car breaks down just outside Spokane:

The killbillies turn up in their tow-truck almost immediately and abduct her. Of course, since this is fiction, she’s got a chance of getting out of this alive, unlike her real-life counterparts, who we’ll get to at the end of this review (yup, it’s a FactCheck episode!).

Now it’s time for the profile, which is unusually nonsense-filled, even for an episode of Criminal Minds. They explain that in the killing team there’s always a weaker and a stronger member, which is accurate, but then they explain that the fact that the victims weren’t molested is significant, because it tells them that either the killers are mentally ‘pre-pubescent’, or that they’re related, because ‘immediate relatives wouldn’t discuss sexual encounters, let alone perform them in front of each other’.

Yeah, as usual, the nonsense comes from Reid.

I’m not going to go into a list of rape-happy families, so let’s just play the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders card and move quickly on.

Once the profile is done the team finds out about the new missing woman, ‘Bobbi’, who was travelling to Spokane for a job interview. Then we cut to her being dragged into the woods by the killbillies, establishing the second half of the episode is going to revolve around them hunting her down. Which is kind of an odd choice for this show, focusing so intently on the victim – we know she’s not going to succeed on her own, so why bother wasting the time?

Oh, now I get it – just two scenes later, Bobbi stumbles onto a group of four campers, and immediately starts begging them for help. Here's how that works out:

Bobbi then escapes with two other campers (the other two are killed by arrows), and manages to convince them to all stay together, despite the man’s ludicrous theory that Bobbi might have ‘done something’ to the killbillies, making her less of a victim, and not worth protecting. Look, I understand you want to put drama and character conflict in all these scenes, but come on – this guy just saw two of his friends brutally murdered for no reason. He knows the killbillies are the bad guys. He’s also the only sensible one – obviously they’ve got a better chance of surviving if they split up. It’s much easier to track a group than three different people – especially when Bobbi has already confirmed that there are only two hunters.

With the ticking clock established, the team heads to a few hunting stores, looking for a pair of hunters who buy supplies locally, and operate around Highway 2, where Bobbi and her car disappeared from. This should take a while, but Garcia helpfully notes that there are only three stores that carry ‘the exact type of arrows’ they’re looking for.

Except they don’t know what kind of arrows they’re looking for. Just that they come to clean points. Which is the most common kind of arrow you can buy. But hey, let’s move on.

They go to the hunting stores and ask who among the clientele is really, really creepy. The shopkeeper immediately knows who they’re talking about, and sends them out to the service station that the killbillies own.

Meanwhile, out in the woods, Bobbi seems oddly non-contrite over the whole ‘getting two people killed’ thing. Rather ridiculously the three of them elect to camp down for the night, despite the fact that it’s much easier to escape hunters in the dark – again, Bobbi saw their equipment, and it didn’t include any night-vision goggles.

The killbillies also prove themselves to be morons – even though they’re just fifty feet away from the camped victims, they don’t finish the job. Why? Because it’s more fun to kill them at first light, ‘when they’re not expecting it’.

Why is this behaviour so idiotic? Think about these guys for a second – they went to the trouble of dragging a victim hundreds of miles solely so that they could be sure no one would be looking for them in Idaho. But now they’ve killed random campers. People who likely told other people where they were, and when they would be back. For all the killbillies know those dead people could be off-duty cops, or the relatives of someone famous – their priority should be to kill all witnesses and get out of there as quickly as possible.

Not that it would do any good, mind you – since the next morning the search has already begun in earnest, while the rest of the team back in Washington has arrived at the killbillies’ service station.

No, you’re not seeing things, it’s the next morning. Despite the fact that they found out about the local service station the previous day, they’re just now arriving at the hideout of the killers they’re searching for.

If there’s one thing you can say about the criminal minds team, it’s that they appreciate the value of a good night’s sleep.

Oh, and out in the woods, the killbillies have revealed their stupidity to be utter and complete:

That’s right, before chasing down Bobbi and her new friends, they took the time to climb thirty feet into the air and string their victims up Predator-style.

How did they know they had at least half an hour to waste doing this? It didn’t occur to them that the campers might have had a vehicle nearby? I mean, they didn’t, but the killbillies had no way of knowing that, did they?

Now it’s time to cut back to Bobbi and the campers – the guy gets killed by an arrow, and after scrounging his knife, the two women leave him to bleed to death in the woods while the killbillies continue not finishing them off.

Things are even more terrifying out at the service station – it turns out there are dozens of stolen cars stashed out back, meaning that the killbilly brothers, and their uncle before them, have been doing this for years!

Ah, the driver’s license trophy case cliche. Will you ever grow old? The answer, of course, is no.

Deep in the woods Bobbi has devised a plan – since there’s two of them, they’ve got a chance to trap the killers! Both girls hide in a particularly thick copse of woods, then try to distract the boys with a thrown branch. It doesn’t go great:

But at least her death gave Bobbi the chance she needed to run up and stick little killbilly over and over again with a knife in the stomach. For no particular reason she doesn’t finish him off with a swipe to the throat – it serves the purpose of delaying senior killbilly while he takes care of his brother – but I’m sure she didn’t actually plan that.

This proves to be the major flaw that catches the killbillies, since sr sets a fire to keep his brother warm, and the smoke draws the attention of the FBI. When they find the jr killbilly they’re hilariously confused about his identity. Sure, he’s badly wounded and could be a victim, but the fact that he’s dressed entirely in camo and has a backpack nearby, while the rest of the victim campers are dressed in normal clothes doesn’t tip them off. It’s only the fact that he’s stabbed rather than shot that lets them figure it out. Mandy convinces jr to tell them which way sr went so that they won’t have to shoot him, but that doesn’t exactly go as planned either.

Bobbi pulls the old ‘hide in a tree, somehow knowing that the killer will walk directly under it’ trick she learned from first blood, but then even though she’s able to knock the killbilly down and stab him in the back, she elects to not finish him off with a couple of slices to the back of his neck.

Her stupidity doesn’t get her killed, though, since Derek shows up in time to blow some feathers out the back of sr. killbilly’s down jacket.

The sound of gunshots cues jr. into the fact that his brother (and only friend) is profoundly dead, and Mandy inexplicably decides to comfort the heartless killing machine as he dies.

He’s certainly a better man than I, who would doubtlessly mock him as consciousness slipped away.

As Bobbi does to sr. Good for her.


Except for the show’s first ‘The Abyss Gazes Also’ speech, in which Emily talks to Derek on the plane, wondering about how different they are from serial killers, since they spend all day trying to think like monsters, doesn’t that make them monsters of a kind?

No, it doesn’t.

Lions kill antelopes. They do this because they like to eat. In order to hunt a lion, I have to understand its habits – how it finds antelopes, where it likes to rest, what times of day it’s most active. Does this make me like a lion? Of course not. Because I don’t want to kill antelopes.

Serial killers hunt people. They do this because of a combination of childhood abuse and genetic predisposition towards violence and poor decision-making. In order to hunt a serial killer, I have to understand their habits – how they find victims, where they’re likely to live, and when they hunt. Does that make me like a serial killer? No. Because I don’t want to kill people.

The god-damn end.

1 - Was profiling in any way helpful in solving the crime?

Just a smidge – it was telling the hunting store owners about their partial profile of the killers that allowed them to find the identity of the killbillies. But I can only give them partial credit, since the profile boiled down to ‘two really creepy guys’, and that’s kind of a give when you’re talking about a team of serial killers.

2 - Could the crime have been solved just as easily using conventional police methods given the known facts of the case?

Oh, yes. They knew that the victim’s car had broken down on a stretch of highway 2, and that it had disappeared just fifteen minutes later when a cop car arrived to check out a 911 call. This means that the killers must have had access to a tow truck. And when the owners of the local service station happened to have mysteriously disappeared, leaving a “gone huntin’” sign, the pieces would have quickly fallen into place.

And that’s not even mentioning the fact that Bobbi actually murdered both killbillies herself – or at least she would have had she been realistically competent. This is yet another one of those stories that would have ended pretty much the same way whether the team had stayed home or not.

Frankly there are getting to be an uncomfortably large number of those for my tastes.

So, on a scale of 1 (Dirty Harry) to 10 (Tony Hill), How Useful Was Profiling in Solving the Crime?

2/10 - It’s weird how so many episodes involve the killers doing something that would get them caught immediately, even if the team wasn’t involved. The killbillies refusal to finish off their prey and make a getaway after things got complicated would have surely gotten them caught, even if their prey hadn’t ironically turned the tables on them.

Criminal Minds FactCheck!

This is kind of a stretch, but while hunting humans is a popular theme in fiction it doesn’t actually seem to happen very much, so I’m going to say that this episode was likely based on the Robert Hansen case. (That’s Hansen with one ‘s’, not two – Robert Hanssen was that Russian Mole in the FBI) I’m basing this idea on two things – 1: He actually did make people run through the woods, alone and unarmed, while he hunted them, and 2: The case was mentioned in the book ‘Mindhunter’, the source of a great deal of the show’s inspiration.

So, then, how close was the show to the reality? Not very at all. The actual hunter lived in Alaska, and rather than preying on stranded motorists, he simply hired prostitutes. Because, as we learned in my review of the Chekov episode – a prostitute is a person you don’t know who will come with you to a second location.

Otherwise the M.O. of the program was fairly close, with Hansen flying his victims out into a remote location, then hunting them for sport, killing with a rifle or knife, as opposed to the bowhunters of the fictional version.

So how was he caught? Funnily enough, the profilers actually helped on this one, hence its inclusion in the book Mindhunter. They helped in a way that falls neatly within my prediction of the uselessness of profiling, however. Here’s the story – one of Hansen’s would-be victims escaped from his house after being kidnapped and raped, but before she could be dragged to the private plane that Hansen used to transport them out into his killing grounds. She went to the police and identified him as her attacker, and told them about his plan to hunt her for sport, but the police didn’t take her seriously because they’re Alaska cops, and rape is basically the state pass-time up there.

When bodies started turning up the cops called in Douglas’ profiling team, who announced that the killer would likely be a hunter who was killing the women for sport, and would likely keep souvenirs of his kills. The description reminded the cops of the time a prostitute had already told them that exact thing, and they quickly headed out to arrest Hansen, who proved to have kept some victims’ jewelry, just as Douglas had predicted. He pled guilty to the various murders, and, sadly, is still alive today, at age 71, 30-some years into a 460 year sentence.

So what can we learn from the Robert Hansen case? Mostly that the cliché about local police needing the FBI to come in and point out what’s right under their noses actually does happen now and again. The more important lesson, though, is that cops need to pay more attention to to rape victims, especially prostitutes, if they want to catch serial killers. The simple fact is that a serial killer is, most of the time, just a rapist who doesn’t want to get caught, so every rapist should be considered a potential serial killer. It’s disturbing how many real-life serial killers could have been caught had the police simply searched their homes after they’d been accused of rape by someone.

And I’m sure we’ll be getting around to addressing most of them during the run of this series.


Anonymous said...

I've been watching Criminal Minds episodes and then reading your reviews (which I found after trying to discover how accurate their profiling actually is), and only just caught up with you. Your reviews are both funny and informative, and I find myself more frequently questioning some of the writers' bizarre choices. I've also learnt quite a bit from these reviews about serial killers. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I've also been watching and reading ur reviews after each episode. You put in a lot of effort, and thanks for making the series more enjoyable.

Anonymous said...

Or how about this one? One or two choppers with FLIR could have located the killbillies and/or victims in no time. Or without FLIR, in daylight.

Also, why do numerous armed members of law enforcement have to be out of the woods by dark?

Bugmenot said...

As per https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Hansen he finally died in Aug 2014.

Anonymous said...

WHY would they comfort the psychos?!? I actually went searching for discussion about this episode because it angered me so much. I love how you say you would mock him until consciousness slipped away - EXACTLY what I was hoping Gideon would do. It's certainly what I would do. Some might call me a bad person for it, I don't care. I would take great pleasure in it. Why should they get any comfort as they die? Their victims suffered mercilessly with no kindness at all as those pieces of shit hovered above them discussing their marksmanship. Unbelievable!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you, friend^. This episode angered me so much, especially when Gaydeon caressed and stroked that psycho's hair. It made my blood boil. If I was there, I would've torn them to pieces. Don't know why Bobbi didn't slit his throat, but better for that piece of shit to die slowly and painfully I guess. I despise Gaydeon. He thinks he's better and smarter than everybody and likes the criminals more than the victims. Absolutely sick